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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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Rare American Indian Horse Mask Faces Restoration
by Billings Gazette

CHEYENNE — The Wyoming State Museum is restoring an elaborately beaded American Indian horse mask to prepare it for public display within the next year.

Mandy Langfald, curator of collections at the museum in Cheyenne, said Wednesday that the Lakota Sioux mask dates to between 1897 and 1910. She said it’s one of fewer than 50 such historic masks that survive from American Indian tribes around the West.

“They started, they believe, when the Spanish conquistadors came through, because they had armor on their horses,” Langfald said of the Indians’ practice of making masks for their own horses.

The mask, made of buffalo hide, is fully covered with tiny venetian beads and features designs of both American flags and stars. Langfald said the mask is unusual because it’s so large, designed to extend far down a horse’s neck.

The museum acquired the mask in 1958. Langfald said it had belonged to Wyoming native John Shangreaux.

According to information Langfald provided, Shangreaux was born at Fort Laramie in the 1850s to Mary Smoke, daughter of the Oglala Sioux chief Old Smoke. After serving as a scout for the Indian fighter Gen. George Crook, Shangreaux worked as an interpreter for Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. He later settled as a trader on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. He died in 1926.

Langfald said it’s possible that Shangreaux was given the horse mask, possibly with a horse, by the Sioux as part of the custom of giving elaborate gifts. She said such masks went out of fashion in the Great Depression, which hit Indian populations even harder than the rest of the country.

The mask is featured in a 2006 book, “American Indian Horse Masks,” which states that it might have been used in the first Oglala Fourth of July parade in 1898.

Langfald recently secured a $700 grant from The Denver Foundation to help cover the estimated $1,500 mask restoration. She said Judy Greenfield, a conservator in Denver, will do the work.

According to a statement from the museum, the mask is suffering from loose beadwork, a loose lining and other loose elements. Once it’s restored, Langfald said the museum intends to display it prominently in the Barber Native American Gallery.

Shangreaux’s descendants occasionally come to the museum to examine the mask and other American Indian items from his collection, Langfald said.

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